Blog Archive

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The nature of discourse and argument Part 4

This should be able to stand alone, but you may want to check out parts one, two and three.

I decided to talk about some more of the thinking errors called fallacies; not because they are the most important thing, but because they are both a common impediment to good reasoning and easy to sum up. This does not mean that they are easy to spot, or to stop. Just that they are simple to explain and learning to avoid any or all of them will immediately lead to better thinking in a noticeable way.  Learning the rules of good thinking that could help you avoid all fallacies, including those I am not going to list, is a longer if  even more worthwhile process which will not be covered in this post.  Instead this post is going to focus on some specific problems often found in direct debate or discussion particularly when it comes to politics, religion, and other belief systems.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No. The problem is it's bullshit

 Originally this was going to be a critique and color commentary on a Huffington post article about astrology.   And then this article came along, and I remembered that belief does in deed affect behaviour.

 Astrology is the idea that arbitrary visual arrangements of stars can influence people based on the position they are viewed to be in at the time of that persons birth.

Virginia Bell writing for the Huffington Post posted there article linked to here on the 19th of January 2011.  I have decided to respond as an effort in speaking with restraint when confronted with the hot and steamy* realm that is astrology.

"The economy has tanked, the housing market has collapsed and the environment is being compromised. And now some astronomer in Minnesota is telling us that our astrological signs have changed and we're not who we thought we were."

 Well actually I think the point that Dr. Kunkle (link)  was making is that we are who we are stars not withstanding.  But maybe that is to much benefit of the doubt.

To quote Dorothy Parker, "What fresh hell is this?" Fear not: Although the world is indeed shaky, your astrological sign, unlike your retirement fund, is perfectly secure.

"Because we're just making the shit we tell you up anyway"

There are different branches of astrology, a fact that astronomer Parke Kunkle failed to make clear in the interview he gave to the Star Tribune. Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac, which begins on the day of the vernal equinox and follows the seasons, not the constellations. It is true that the Earth wobbles and the constellations have shifted 23 degrees, but since Western astrology is not based on the constellations, it remains unchanged.

 Not based on the constellations?   What exactly is Scorpio or Virgo?   They are constellations.  You should probably just apologize to everyone you have taken money off of for this so far.

What Professor Kunkle is referring to is known as Eastern, or sidereal, astrology, which follows those famous constellations. For instance, Vedic astrology, the kind practiced in India and other parts of the world, is sidereal. If you consult a Vedic astrologer, then your sign indeed may have changed, but this knowledge has been around for hundreds of years. Sidereal astrologers already use these so-called "new dates."
This story about our signs changing, as well as the "discovery" of a 13th sign Ophiuchus, is nothing new; it surfaces every few years and is recycled by the media. What's different this time is the massive attention it has received. New York astrologer Shelley Ackerman made an excellent point on Fox News in reminding us that during this go-around, the story was fueled by the social networking sites, which caused it to spread like wildfire.

 The real issue is that astrology is in the news at all despite never doing anything news worthy, oh well there was the Zodiac killer so I take that back.

Professor Kunkle's information, or rather misinformation, has definitely hit a nerve. Yet, is it possible, unbeknownst to him, that he has wobbled into something buried deep in the collective consciousness? He may have been wrong about our signs changing, but on another level, don't we all need to change? We can't continue to treat the Earth or each other in the same way and expect the planet to survive. Could the planets and the signs hold the key? Messages often come from strange quarters.

Yes his misinformation about the changing of what stars are overhead during what times of year.  Oh wait that part is true. Was it that he didn't wade neck deep and upside-down into the pseudoscientific practices of fortune telling while presenting a neat little tidbit. I imagine that doesn't really matter much.

From an astrological perspective, something big is brewing, as several major planets are poised to change signs over the next few months. Both Jupiter and Uranus are about to bolt into fiery Aries; Neptune and Chiron will soon enter sensitive Pisces. These distant planets move slowly. Changing signs around the same time signals that there's new energy and consciousness entering the world. Aries and Pisces couldn't be more different, and yet together, they offer us a new way of being in the world. Aries is ego, action and aggression; Pisces is associated with forgiveness and healing. The challenges we face in the world today require us to be fully integrated. Being a warrior is not enough, nor is merely being spiritual; we must put our spiritual principals and practices into conscious action.

From an astrological perspective.... Then she talks about the motion of the planets and what that means.   Listen Virginia, I am afraid you are going to have to show your work.   Astrology has never been demonstrated to work or be true in any way. Not to mention that earlier you said that astrology had nothing to do with the constellations why then should it have something to do with the planets?

"It's easy to prove Kunkle wrong or to poke fun at astrology, but we don't learn anything by doing that." If we're so afraid of giving up our astrological signs, maybe we should examine our attachments. We're all addicted to something, both as a nation and as individuals: money, power, oil, plastic, sugar, carbs -- the list goes on and on. And what about this 13th sign that suspiciously sounds like the uninvited 13th fairy godmother in tales like "Sleeping Beauty"? What is it that we need to wake up to? Extravagant Jupiter and that maverick Uranus are hanging out together in the sky; they offer us a unique opportunity to expand our mind and absorb new information.

 It's easy to....    Did we not learn anything by this poking fun?  We learned that what stars are out at night are different from what they used to be, and we learned about the mechanism that caused it. Already of more value then astrology has served, ever.  Then a rambling metaphor mistaken for potential insight.   Magical thinking relies on magic to work.  Magic doesn't work.

Perhaps an astrological makeover is not such a bad idea. A little flirtation with another sign won't cause your partner to leave (unless he or she is a Scorpio), and it's certainly cheaper than investing in a new wardrobe or a facelift. Unlike plastic surgery, if you don't like the result, you can go back to the way you were. Aquarius would benefit from Capricorn's determination; Sagittarius could teach Capricorns to have more faith and enthusiasm. I'm a stubborn Taurus; my idea of change is switching from a scone to a muffin. But I need to learn to take more risks, something Aries excels at.

 Blah blah blah this is bullshit

As an astronomer, Kunkle was probably trying to debunk astrology. Instead, he created tremendous interest. Folks have been communicating about it via Twitter and Facebook, searching the web for their horoscopes and putting their astrologers on speed dial. And the media is having a field day. Suddenly people who didn't know their sun from their moon are bantering around terms like tropical, sidereal and Vedic. Astrology has gotten more hits on the Internet than Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga! Kunkle's information may be misleading, but the attention, even the controversy, astrology has received is priceless.

 He may have been trying to debunk it, or he may have realized that one way to get real information into peoples heads is to latch on to the lies already there.     Sidereal is a term from astronomy, oh drat can't have people learning about that.   Sure the attention is good for the practice of taking money off of suckers, why wouldn't it be.  But you are missing the point, this wasn't a debunking. It did however point out some silly aspects to the practice. 

*hot and steamy should be read as bullshit and not sexy in this case.